Girls on Food

Cocktails

Take Me, I’m Yours Morgan Street Food Hall & Market in Raleigh, NC

Recently, food halls have been popping up all over the country. When I heard Raleigh was getting not one, but two, my immediate reaction was “great, a glorified mall food court” because really, when was the last time you felt cool eating at the food court, amiright? But there are a couple huge differences at play here, so put your worries aside!

First, food courts are so often chains and standard fare. Morgan Street Food Hall & Market is, for the most part, neither. Rolled ice cream anyone? Poke bowls, empanadas, and ramen were the first things to catch my eye. Cousins Maine Lobster (the only option I would consider a chain) is slightly more accessible here, and with a lot more seating options! The line is still out the door but with a beer in hand and a bustling crowd, a far cry from the hot food truck rodeo lines you’re usually waiting in! Last time I tried that, I was “red as a lobster” by the time I ordered my Connecticut lobster roll!

Raleigh Rolls rolled ice cream, which is a treat for all! (yeah, I shared with the baby!)

When you first walk into Morgan Street Food Hall, you’ll see a bustling crowd and tons of seating options, from picnic tables to couches and arm chairs, and finally, 4 top tables with chairs. There are indoor and outdoor seating options, with a couple bars to frequent as thirst arises. There are 18 dining options, ranging from southern to Mediterranean to Asian; comfort food and hangover food and on to desserts and bubble tea. For our family, this is the perfect place for all of our meals out: we have 2 picky preschoolers who think the margarita pizza at Bella’s Wood Fired Pizza and Tapas is out of this world (and less than $10, thank you!).

For me, I get the “adventurous” foods I can’t talk the whole family into – ramen and poke bowls, while hubby gets to fill up on empanadas, which he loves! We have an Italian au pair living with us this year, and she has enjoyed working her way through the options Morgan Street has at her disposal. Currently, her heart resides in Raleigh.

I’ve now eaten at Morgan Street 3 times. Hubs and I met a group of friends here one night before an Umphrey’s McGee concert downtown. There were a lot of empanadas and some curry plates, a kick ass looking pizza, a whole lot of beer, and my amazing delicious tuna poke bowl, with fresh tuna on their California bowl (from The Bowls), loaded with amazingness and topped with avocado! It was incredible, and I couldn’t wait to go back!

So the next weekend, a girlfriend and I met up there, and she got ramen and I went back to The Bowls for round 2 – this time trying their spicy tuna on the Malibu bowl, which has spicy seaweed salad in it. The biggest difference was that the tuna was chopped up instead of chunks, so I would probably go regular tuna in the future.

We also ventured over to the bar, and I tried the Deep River Brewing Company’s (out of Clayton, NC) pumpkin pie porter, which was oh, so good and also very seasonal! It was delicious after a long afternoon of shopping and enjoying the suddenly cooler temps here in NC! Finally (maybe the first finally), we waited in line at Cocoa Forte Desserts for chocolate dipped cheesecake, which we were saving for when we got home, and then I talked my friend into trying out Raleigh Rolls, the rolled ice cream place! It’s a little bit Coldstone Ceamery (you get to choose 3 flavors that go into your ice cream, and then 3 flavors for the toppings) meets a sushi roll (because in the end, they hand you a bowl with 6 rolls of ice cream). So good news – you can sub flavors – I subbed in coffee flavoring for the graham cracker in my s’mores ice cream, and it was the.best.thing.ever! Little man ate way too much but also thinks I’m the coolest mom ever for sharing my ice cream with him, ha! (Verdict on cheesecake – its on a stick, so go ahead and eat it immediately. I waited a few hours to eat mine, and it fell apart really fast. Pretty sure it was user error though).

So the next day, my hubs was still out of town (he went on Phish tour last weekend), and I needed to provide food for my little ones for the 4th day in a row. So…I started thinking about that pizza, and the fact that cow burger has hot dogs. Surely they could find something to eat…

Here’s the deal – I was nervous to bring a 5 year old and a 3 year old and a 5 month old into such a busy place. But…they loved it! My son is begging to go back, my daughter can’t stop talking about the ice cream, and the baby slept thru the thing. We also found an awesome place for our family photos in 2 weeks. So all in all, a great trip. I will send you all day every day to Bella’s pizza – it was incredible, and the kids ate every bite of that pizza. I loved the portion size of the burgers (I got the classic cheeseburger) and I’d heard great things about it, but I would definitely trust your gut on that place. First, the line took F O R E V E R which I’m not really into, and wouldn’t have waited in it but our au pair and I both wanted a burger so we stuck with it. Second, we waited F O R E V E R for our buzzer to ring. Like it took the entire time the pizza cooked to wait in the line and order. Then the kids ate the whole pizza. And I took them back over to Raleigh rolls and waited for someone to turn melted ice cream into frozen ice cream rolls, and then the buzzer sounded as I was paying for them. So the burgers were delicious, great bun to burger ratio, and overall very satisfying, but with so many faster options, I’m not sure I would wait for it again.

Also, pro tip – if you have a picky child who only eats vanilla ice cream (I know, I know, its super weird but what I’m dealing with right now), there is another small ice cream scoop place in the food hall. Don’t waste your $7 on plain vanilla with a tiny sprinkling of rainbow sprinkles. Spend that money on the whole experience and all the toppings, and get Sir Picky something from the cheaper place!

So final verdict – run, don’t walk, to the Morgan Street Food Hall if you’re in Raleigh. Bring an appetite. Check out the unusual places, especially the bowls, the broth, and curry in a hurry, and take the time to wait in line for Raleigh Rolls! I’m looking forward to heading down there again next weekend after the International Festival to try out some new places!

All The Booze And Bites You Missed At Music City Food And Wine

The sixth annual Music City Food and Wine Festival came to a close Sunday, September 16th. Those who were lucky enough to score tickets to the sold-out bash had a chance to sample some of the best bites and booze from across the country. The talent roster was an assortment of celebrity chefs, TV personalities, authors and local Nashville culinary masterminds. From book signings, cocktail throwdowns, chef panels, and a concert headlined by Kings of Leon, this weekend was a celebration of all things that make Nashville “Music City.”

Here were some of my favorites from the weekend festivities!

Ruffino (Website and Instagram)

What girl can resist bubbles and a perfect photo op? Ruffino brought their A game to Music City Food and Wine. Not only did they have this darling champagne cart complete with photo booth capabilities, but they greeted guests on Saturday morning with their own miniature bottle of Prosecco or sparkling rosé. You know what I say, “ Rosé all day!”

Wicked Weed ( Website and Instagram)

Wicked Weed is one of my favorite breweries in Asheville, North Carolina. When I saw their tent on Friday night, I couldn’t think of a better way to beat the heat than with their Uncle Rick’s Pilsner. Given the insane temps and number of beer enthusiasts at the festival, this tent was in high demand.

Black Rabbit (Website and Instagram)

Chefs Trey Cioccia and Chad Kelly knocked it out of the park this year. I might even go as far as to say it was one of my top three food bites of the festival. Don’t be fooled by the unassuming, monochromatic appearance of this bite, it was filled with flavor and the toppings packed a punch. Below you will find a Rabbit Terrine Taco topped with cabbage, onion and mustard sauce. Seriously, is your mouth watering?

Nicky’s Coal Fired (Website and Instagram)

I couldn’t let Music City Food and Wine Festival pass without checking out one of my favorite Nashville establishments, Nicky’s Coal Fired. Not only are they making some incredible pizza and pasta, but the owners, Tony and Caroline Galzin, are two of the nicest people you will ever meet. Chef Tony served up his legendary Gnocchi Sardi with Bolognese Blanco and Porcini Breadcrumbs. Thank goodness I know Tony pretty well so there was no judgment when I went back for second and thirds… Yes, I have zero shame when it comes to his pasta.

If you are planning a trip to Nashville, this is one of my most recommended restaurants outside of City House.

Belle Meade Bourbon (Website and Instagram)

You can’t officially call yourself a Southerner if you don’t have an affinity for bourbon. While I had a chance to sample their full portfolio at the kick-off party, these gentlemen were serving guests Cold Fashioned, which was the BEST way to stay cool on Saturday. When there are four massive tents filled with bites and booze and you make the conscious effort to seek out the same cocktail on repeat, you know you have a winner!

Funk Seoul Brother (Website and Instagram)

This isn’t your average KFC, ladies and gentlemen. Chef BJ Lofback served one of his highly sought after dishes, Korean Fried Chicken to festival goers on Saturday. This is one of those legendary dishes that you often hear about but rarely have the chance to sample. I’m not going to lie, this dish was worth the sticky fingers.

Lonesome Dove Western Bistro (Website and Instagram)

There’s nothing I love more than a good stuffed pepper and when I heard that Chef Ian Shorndon from Lonesome Dove Western Bistro in Knoxville was serving up brisket stuffed chili peppers, I had to swing by and check them out. I was fortunate enough to snap a photo right after they were replenished because these guys couldn’t keep up with the demand. A crowd favorite for sure!

Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint + Friends (Website and Instagram)

Every year Pitmaster Pat Martin hosts an extraordinary bar-b-que inviting friends from across the country to brave the Tennessee temps and cook over the open coals for the weekend. Dishes and chefs rotate on a frequent basis, so it’s worth making multiple stops. I had a chance to sneak back to the prep area and see where all the magic happened and skip the excessively long lines. It’s hard to pick a favorite from this but I have to say I was at a loss for words after taking one bite of Chef Chris Shepard’s concoction. Chef Shepard is the at the helm of UB Preserv, where he was awarded a James Beard award in 2014. Next time I find myself in Texas, you better believe I’ll be at Underbelly!

Chef Tom Bayless, The Public House

If you have followed along on the blog or caught a glimpse of my Instagram, you know I was ecstatic when I walked into Harvest Night and saw that Chef Tom Bayless was making my all time favorite creation, The Tomato Sandwich. Yes, it may sound like a simplistic Southern dish, but I assure you it is far from that. Imagine three layers of freshly sliced tomatoes, topped with sea salt, sandwiched between a sesame seed bun slathered with charcoal mayonnaise. Is your mouth watering? I know mine is. I exercised no self-control at this tent, it was on repeat.

Chef Jeni Britton Bauer, Jeni’s Ice Cream

I have a sweet tooth like no other. Sometimes I exercise complete restraint while other times I say screw it and enjoy all the things. It goes without saying when “Jeni’s Ice Cream” is mentioned, I get a little weak in the knees. Saturday evening, Chef Jeni Britton Bauer partnered with Hi-Fi cookies and created a Sweet Corn and Blackberry Ice Cream Sandwich. You know Jeni’s Ice Cream, I don’t have to tell you how good it was!

Music City Food and Wine, you are by far one of my favorite weekends in Nashville. My clothes may be a little tighter, my feet a little sore and my liver beyond repair, but you throw one heck of a party. One I will never miss!

If you are interested in attending THE festival of the year, stay tuned to the Music City Food and Wine website (click here) as they will be announcing the dates for the 2019 festival soon!

Citizen In Beverly Hills Has A Dish For Every Type Of Gal Pal

Organizing a girl’s night out, no matter what the celebration is, can end up being stressful. From constant text alerts, to catering to different dietary needs, to considering your friend’s budgets, it’s tough to find a place that can cater to everyone. But after re-discovering Citizen in Beverly Hills, now under Chef Seth Greenburg, I believe this is the perfect spot for a GNO.

Chef Greenburg, an LA native, served as opening Executive Chef at the Dakota Restaurant in the Roosevelt Hotel and then went on to work as Executive Chef at The Penthouse in Santa Monica for a number of years.

His menu at Citizen offers a variety of dishes inspired by the diverse LA food scene. The dishes are then paired with both tiki and updated traditional cocktails. Don’t worry, all your friends will find what they are looking for here.

Citizen
184 N Canon Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90210
https://www.citizenbeverlyhills.com/

For the Fitspo Obsessed

The Watermelon Salad, a nod to fruit stands of LA, is perfect for your friend who’s Instagramming her fitness journey as we speak. This light salad bursts with fresh flavors from the watermelon, cucumber and tomato but has that chili kick and tart lime that stands are famous for. She can live a little and wash this one down with a glass of ’14 Schramsberg Blanc De Blanc for less calories than a cocktail.

For the #TacoTuesday Devotee

You can’t draw inspiration from LA and not have tacos on the menu! Start with the Albacore Tacos (loved the pineapple kimchi) then move onto the more ample portioned Tacos made with fresh corn tortillas (comes with your choice of 3). My favorite taco was the flat iron steak with cojita cheese and topped with chimichurri. Other options are shrimp with green papaya slaw for a Thai taste or fried chicken with sweet chili for a Chinese flair.

For those of you who are looking for a non-alcoholic beverage, the Blueberry Mint Faux-Jito, with citrus agave and ginger beer is perfect for sipping the night away on the patio.

The Traditionalist

Not every single friend of yours may be as epicurious as you are, so I recommend the more comfort-type options, inspired by classic American cuisine.

The Cheddar Biscuits are buttery, soft and come with a chive butter so fantastic, you might pester the server to take some home.

Chef Greenburg takes it back to the old school with a Halibut in Parchment, and I loved that. A creamy dill butter sauce is poured on top as a part of the presentation. The halibut is tender and thanks to the parchment cooking process, this dish is very aromatic as it arrives. I was reminded of the halibut dinners my mom would cook for me growing up. It would be very rude of me to confirm if this was better than my mother’s… so I’m just going to stop while I’m ahead.

Cocktail-wise I’d recommend the Strawberry Fields cocktail, coined after that classic Beatles jam. It’s a vodka-based cocktail with fresh mint and strawberries.

The Fieri Fanatic

For that friend of yours who can’t turn down a SoCal dive, opt for the Short Rib Fries. The pickled carrots and jalapenos add a fun taco truck flavor to this dish. Be sure to pair it with Babe Rosé With Bubbles for juicy, bubbly fun.

GOF Tip: The Lucky Seven, 7 dishes, for $7 until 7 PM is a great deal and it’s availability is extra generous on Monday nights, 2:30 PM – 10 PM.

The Friend Who’s Still Recovering From Last Night

There’s always one! Since the only cure for alcohol seems to be more alcohol, send her a Detox/Retox. This Tito’s vodka based cocktail has fresh blueberries and chareau aloe, which is an all natural aloe liqueur. And according to boozy folklore, aloe is a great remedy if you’re not feeling 100% after a wild time. She’ll thank you later.

Although this tasting was comped by Citizen, all opinions and thoughts expressed are my own.  

New Brunswick Restaurant Week 2018: Catherine Lombardi

Guess who’s back…back again…Fatboi’s back…tell a friend. It is I, Jess, the ghost of Christmas past, coming to you after a year-long WordPress hiatus. In the past year, I started grad school and have been grinding it out, while Christie’s been managing a sports facility and running 23812947 Spartan races (aroo!). But don’t worry, we’ve been just as committed to the #fatlyfe.

July 14th kicked off restaurant week in New Brunswick, NJ. ‘Til the 28th, the hottest spots are offering discounts on beverages, meals, desserts, and everything in between. From ramen to Ethiopian cuisine, to jam-packed strombolis at Stuff’s, there’s something for everyone. It’s a great excuse to have a fancy date night, dinner and drinks with the girls, or a family outing.

I decided to give Catherine Lombardi a try, after hearing great things about their Italian fare. I easily mapped out my prospects from their $39 three-course menu, prior to even setting foot into the building. I rolled out of bed, changed, and headed to Catherine Lombardi accompanied by my childhood friends (s/o to Marce and Cee, the OG’s). Scoping out the restaurant, I quickly regretted my outfit choice. I looked like a fat baby who got separated from her nanny, in my floral jumpsuit. Wine glasses and fancy linen napkins dotted every table, and everything was RED; the walls, the velvet curtains, the carpet, the upholstery. It was what I imagine entering Christian Grey’s red room of pain would feel like, but not as terrifying.

I dove right into the wine menu (overwhelmed by the number of categories I never knew existed) and zeroed in on my go-to, Pinot Grigio, and ran with it.

For starters, I ordered the Caprese salad with house-made mozzarella. Tomatoes are either a hit or miss for me, but I easily chowed them down, and the house-made mozzarella was divine. 

I’m obsessed with anything and everything truffle, so I had to go with the Garganelli with truffle cream, prosciutto, and asparagus as my entrée. The prosciutto was the perfect addition, balancing out the truffle flavor.

Marce opted for the linguine with shrimp scampi. Obviously, I stole a bite, and it was a delicious rendition of the Italian classic.

Cee chose the tortelloni with Parmagiano-Reggiano cream and bolognese sauce. We actually had to google if tortelloni and tortellini are the same and *spoiler alert*, they are. I may have an Italian last name, but I had no idea wtf was going on. You may be looking at this picture thinking, ‘What gives? There are only 6 tortellonis.’ I thought the same thing until I sampled some, and the tortellonis were stuffed with filling, making it a reasonable portion size.

To round out my trifecta, I opted for the mascarpone cheesecake. It was incredibly creamy and tasted flan-like.

Marce selected Mrs. Palmisano’s cookie plate. To our delight, the cookies were melt-in-your-mouth soft and delicious. This plate would make any Italian grandmother beam with pride. 

Cee went for the mango sorbet. It didn’t knock her socks off, but I was pleased with the refreshing zing. 

Not only was the presentation on point, but the food quality really knocked it out of the park. All of the ingredients were incredibly fresh, making for flavorful dishes. It was fun pretending to be bougie for a night, all under the guise of a discounted prix fixe menu.

J

Fatboi Tendencies 

Irvine Media Tasting: Jazz En Plein Air at Bistango

When I first moved to Irvine back in 2008, Bistango was one of the first restaurants that I went to and really enjoyed. Summer is here and they have weekly live jazz music (in partnership with Saddleback College), every Thursday from 5:30pm-8:30pm on their patio deck. It’s one of those days where you can celebrate, because Friday is happening soon! And a good way to celebrate is by relaxing in their patio, order one of their signature cocktails, sit back, relax, and enjoy the music.

Bistango
19100 Von Karman Ave #100, Irvine, CA 92612
https://bistango.com/

They recently revamped their cocktail menu, and I have to say, it was impressive. They have 9 signature cocktails. The 4 we ordered were Coconut Mojito (RumHaven coconut rum, fresh mint, fresh squeezed lime juice), Ginger Basil Lemonade (Malahat ginger rum, fresh strawberry, fresh basil, splash of lemonade), Jalapeno or Pineapple Mule (Dulce Vida pineapple, jalapeno infused Tequila, fresh lime juice, ginger beer), and the Gin Reviver (Botonist gin, lillet blanc, cointreau, fresh lemon juice).

They also have a food menu that has remained classic over the past few years. They have a bar menu, which starts at 2pm, and a tapas menu, which starts at 4pm. If you have a few friends, you guys can definitely order a lot of things to try and share it among you and your friends. A few of my favorites from their food menu is their Pan Seared Diver Scallops, Prime Beef Sliders, Filet Mignon Flat Bread, and the Crab Cakes! All were very savory and delicious!

It tends to get cooler in the evening on the patio, but if it gets too cold, they do have outdoor heaters that they can turn on. All in all, Bistango is a great place to sit back and relax right before you weekend starts. Be sure to grab a few friends for drinks, Uber if you must, pick your poison, sit back, and enjoy the music. If you drove, they do validate your parking ticket. And if you did drive, limit your alcohol intake. ^_^ Until then, cheers!

Although this meal was comped by Bistango via Shout PR, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. 

Chicago Media Tasting: Arami

One of my favorite things is discovering hidden foodie gems in unexpected neighborhoods, and Arami is one of those gems located in West Town. Arami, a repeat Michelin Bib Gourmand-awarded izakaya, offers some of the best sushi that I have ever had.

Arami
1829 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL 60622
http://www.aramichicago.com/

I loved how natural-feeling all the bamboo decor is. The plants and skylight make the atmosphere create a sense of calm, making the dining experience very relaxed. I definitely want to come back on a sunny day, to experience the skylight and see how it lights up the dining area.

For this tasting, we started off with cocktails, and they were refreshing and delicious. We ordered the St. Dorothy, Shiso Kiri, and Bohemian Grove; I had the Bohemian Grove and I loved how nicely it paired with all of the food we tried.

(Left) Shiso Kiri, (Top) St. Dorothy, and (Right) Bohemian Grove

To start off we enjoyed the Tako Kani Salad, which has octopus, king crab, shrimp, cucumber, yuzu, ponzu, and micro shiso. I am a HUGE fan of ponzu and yuzu, so I loved this dish. It was light but flavorful, and the cucumbers made is very refreshing.

Tako Kani Salad

Then we moved onto the Hamachi sashimi, which was divine. I loved the presentation and the buttery fish with a tangy finish.

Hamachi

Next, we had the Zuke Sake Hotate (spicy Hokkaido scallop wrapped with marinated salmon and taro) and Zuke Maguro Kani, which were amazing (spicy Alaskan King Crab wrapped with marinated tuna and taro). Both specialties had the right balance of spice, rice, fish, and garnish. I had never tried a tokubetsu (a specialty nigiri) like these before, but I loved them. I was a little nervous about the level of spiciness, but I was pleasantly surprised that everything balanced the spice out.

Zuke Maguro Kani and Zuke Sake Hotate

While we were enjoying the tokubetsu, we were served the Cornchizu. This has corn, queso fresco, shiso, cilantro, miso garlic sauce, and togarashi. Initially I was really surprised that there was a corn cheese dish on the menu because I had only seen dishes similar to this at Korean restaurants. However, when we asked about the inspiration behind the dish we were told that there’s a Korean restaurant down the street that the staff of Arami enjoys and they like the corn cheese dish, which made perfect sense to me. This dish has a bold blend of flavors, and I would highly recommend it if you like the Korean corn cheese.

Cornchizu

The Poke was the next dish we devoured, and it was the most unique take on poke that I have ever had. Immediately, I noticed that the colors were more muted than most poke bowls that I’ve had, but once it started eating it, then I noticed how different the flavors were. The fish had a smokier flavor, but that was balanced out by the onion, seaweed, and cucumber. The Macadamia nuts were a nice touch too.

Poke

Once we finished the Poke, we were presented with a beautiful flight of nigiri. We started eating it left to right, which meant eating the Hirame (Japanese flounder), then Aji (horse mackerel), and ending with the Sake (salmon). Each fish had more and more flavor, but I loved the ponzu on the Aji.

Then we moved onto the Pipikaula Steak, which was phenomenal. It consists of koji dry-aged domestic wagyu short rib, shoyu mango, and poi. The short rib was amazing, but I really loved the way the shoyu mango complemented the steak.

Pipikaula Steak

After the steak, we had the Unagi Spicy Maguro. Unagi is one of my favorites, so I was excited to try this roll. The spicy tuna wasn’t too spicy and the cucumber, sweet soy, and negi definitely helped balance the flavors and spice levels in the roll. Even though, this has spicy tuna, I still found this roll to be very light and refreshing.

Unagi Spicy Maguro

Our final dish was the Hotate-Su, which has Hokkaido scallop, Hawaiian hot pepper water, coconut lime sauce, hearts of palm, Thai basil, and passionfruit. This dish is super light and I loved how all of the different flavors mixed.

Hotate-Su

I loved all of the dishes that we had at Arami. I love the twists they’ve put on some dishes like Poke and the Korean Corn and Cheese dish. Additionally, I also appreciated that they notate on their menu which items are safe for people who are gluten free/have celiac, shellfish free, vegetarian and vegan, and which items have octopus. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this before at a Japanese restaurant, but I appreciate it because I know that I have a place I can bring friends who have dietary restrictions. If you love sushi and are in Chicago, then I definitely recommend Arami!

Thank you to Isabelli Media Relations for setting up this tasting. Although this dinner was comped, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. 

MEDIA TASTING: New Brunch Menu at Del Frisco’s Grille is Picture Perfect

Earlier this week I journeyed out to the faraway land known as the Westside and visited Del Frisco’s Grille at its ocean front Santa Monica location. A completely revamped brunch menu was awaiting and OMG- everyone needs to visit and experience the brunch that Instagram dreams are made of. Perhaps Chef Steven Quinn knew his new menu would be so aesthetically pleasing or maybe this gorgeous spread is just like those girls that are naturally pretty with full brows first thing in the morning. Regardless, the food is amazing and photographs better than Beyoncé.

Del Frisco’s Grille
1551 Ocean Ave, Suite 105, Santa Monica, CA 90401
https://delfriscosgrille.com/

To start of this exclusive tasting, fellow media influencers and myself were guided to the patio where the most magnificent spread awaited. Voila!

The spread that dreams are made of

Lions and Tigers and Bears right??? Actually its more like egg yolks and cocktails and greens! Inspiration for the new menu came from around the globe and incorporates food trends that we all want to indulge in. From Brooklyn inspired dishes to a nod to our California love of things gluten-free Chef Quinn really brought it all together beautifully for our enjoyment. I genuinely had sensory overload!

As we all mingled a bit, we were given the first cocktail to sip. The colorful Fruit & Flowers- Tito’s Vodka, St. Germain, blueberry, grapefruit and lime flavors make this a perfect light cocktail for the hot summer days we have coming our way. Plus is has a cute rock candy garnish for fun!

While very pretty, I wasn’t expecting anything too spectacular from the Smoked Salmon Tower. Unbeknownst to me, Del Frisco’s take on the classic lox bagel was a heavy hitter. Chef Quinn informed us all the fish was flown in straight from Boston from Foley Fish. ( yasss, that’s fresh AND fancy).  This smoked salmon was top-notch and took the bagel to the next level. The presentation for the tower is awesome with red onions, cucumber, tomatoes and capers but there’s two different kinds of cream cheeses provided which complimented the salmon exquisitely. One was a creamy plain spread and the other a unique “Everything” caper spread. Being the wise foodie that I am, I went half and half on the spreads since I couldn’t get full on the first menu item!

Smoked Salmon Tower + Fruit & Flowers

Nonna’s Pan Cinnamon Rolls were brought out and there were collective jaw drops around the table.  The bourbon espresso caramel sauce smelled like heaven and for an instant I had a clear image of the Italian grandmother who loved me dearly and baked this to comfort my bad decisions from the weekend. The toasted pecans sprinkled on top gave a great crunch and added protein to the dish!

Nonna’s Pan Cinnamon Rolls

For those admirable individuals who take the healthy route even during brunch you’re in for a treat. The Greens & Grains Bowl is the answer to your fit meal dreams. A cage free egg is awaiting for you to get the perfect boomerang of it being cut. Get that yoke ooze! Quinoa, charred broccoli, edamame, dried cranberries, roasted almonds, baby spinach and BEETS all drizzled with a sweet basil dressing are the rest of the elements in this awesome gluten free dish.

Greens & Grains Bowl

Chef Quinn has two other gluten-free options on the brunch menu: the incredibly photogenic Croque Madame and the delicious Eggs in Purgatory with their avocado flatbread side.

Croque Madame
Eggs in Purgatory

My fave dish was a tie between the Greens & Grains Bowl and the Lemon Ricotta Pancakes. Lemon curd, blueberry compote and fresh berries are the perfect summery brunch item to enjoy in the patio while people watching in Santa Monica. It’s on Ocean and Colorado right in front of the pier! 

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

Del Frisco’s Grille quickly established itself as a favorite amongst locals and tourists alike and I can totally see why. Not only is their food incredible, the cocktails are so intricate and thought out that they deserve a whole post on their own! As any pro-bruncher knows, brunch is only as good as the booziness involved.

Even though I couldn’t partake in the meat dishes offered (I’m a pescatarian) the void was filled with cocktails! If mimosas or their signature Bloody Mary with Horseradish Wheatley isn’t up your alley there’s good kick in the  Crack Coffee. With its Mt. Gay Black Barrel Rum, chai tea syrup and Chameleon Nitro Cold Brew, you’re bound to wake up with this bevy. If you need some romance The Honeymoon in Paris will take you away to Providence in summer especially with its super cute sprig of lavender! Finally the crowd favorite at the event was the Watermelon Frozé! Rosé but better because you get a small serving of fruit, hooray! Mom would totally be proud.

Bloody Mary
Watermelon Frozé
Honeymoon in Paris

I’m super excited to hit up the Westside again for brunch. With the semi-new Expo Line Station a block away, there’s no need for a DD! Totally recommend it for all those who don’t want to worry about being stuck in traffic while in a food coma. Also, Del Frisco’s Grille is having a special 16 oz. 45-day Dry Aged Strip for the deserving fathers out there this upcoming Father’s Day ( yes, that’s tomorrow, Sunday 6/17). Fun fact, Del Frisco’s Grille is the cooler sibling of the widely praised  Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House, so they know a thing or two about cooking meat.

Watermelon Frozé anyone?

Summer is here and so shall beach day brunches at one of California’s most iconic beaches. A million thanks to all who made this event possible and for everyone at Del Frisco who flew out from Dallas to spoil us with their new offerings. Chef Shawn Quinn really elevated the brunch game with such photogenic offerings. This place is ultimate #brunchgoals!

Thank you so much to Spin PR for arranging this media tasting. Although this tasting was comped, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. 

MEDIA TASTING: The Thirsty Merchant in Valley Village, CA Brings Out The Kid In Us!

Los Angeles, I’ve just found your new go-to summer hangout! If you’re looking for good drinks, good eats, and fun games in a laid back but classy atmosphere, look no further than the Thirsty Merchant in Valley Village.

THE THIRSTY MERCHANT 

12430 Riverside Dr
Valley Village, CA 91607
http://www.thethirstymerchant.com

I enjoy watching and playing games as much as the next girl, but I usually avoid my local sports bar because I’m not interested in jockeying for a spot at the pool table with a bunch of annoying bros.

Thank goodness for the Thirsty Merchant. Not only are there plenty of games to choose from (bocce ball, foosball, corn hole, darts—even giant Connect-Four!), but the vibe is warm and inviting with an elegant Victorian-inspired twist. The bar is impressive, and they offer a wide selection of beers, but they also have an excellent wine and cocktail list for those like myself who aren’t into brews.

Hot Lips

Upon arriving, my companion and I settled into a cozy, dimly lit booth and perused the menu. We decided to start off with a couple of spicy drinks to get things going. He ordered a Hot Lips cocktail made with jalapeño infused vodka, mezcal, lime, pineapple juice, and vanilla simple syrup. I ordered a Merchant Mary with Bang Bang Shrimp Cocktail from the “Day Drinks” menu (which, by the way, accompanied a rather appealing weekend brunch menu that I intend to return for).

The Hot Lips definitely did as its name implied- it made my lips tingle with flavor. I know spicy drinks aren’t for everyone, but if you enjoy heat, definitely try this drink out. It has a smoky taste on the front end, builds into a zesty jalapeño burn, and softens with the sweet vanilla finish. Delicious!

The Merchant Mary was also a very solid Bloody Mary, though after trying the Hot Lips, it didn’t seem spicy enough for my taste. But the mix is fresh and made in house and had all the right elements – including a refreshing celery flavor that I really enjoyed. Be careful with this one though… it makes for some really easy drinking, and I didn’t realize how strong it was until I finished it. Oh, and did I mention the zesty and meaty shrimp that was the prize at the end of the drink? (Or are you one of those people who eats all the garnishes first? No judgement here!)  

For an appetizer we tried the Roasted Shishito Peppers which were UH-MAY-ZING. Who would think such a simple dish could be so delicious? For me, it was all about the perfect char and garlicky vinegar dressing the peppers were dressed with, and the equally mouthwatering truffle aioli that accompanied them. I could have eaten a bucket of these, but I had to save room for the rest of the night. 

We also tried a Sonoma Salad before diving into the main course. This salad is a refreshing summer treat made with crisp butter lettuce, roasted corn, candied walnuts, and dried cranberries, tossed with a light champagne vinaigrette and feta cheese crumbles. It would make a great meal on its own with some added protein like chicken or shrimp. 

There were a lot of other appealing appetizers that would make for good sharing with a group of friends, such as steak tips and pan-fried dumplings, but we decided to order something more hearty for our main course. After trying the shrimp in the bloody Mary I was tempted to go with the Louisiana Bang Bang Shrimp, but ultimately I decided to go with the Bistro Burger. My companion took a Southern route with the Southern Livin’ fried chicken sandwich.

It was time for a drink refill while we waited for our food and I simply had to try another “day drink” selection, the Frosé (“God’s gift to your mouth” as the menu states.) I have to agree. This is the perfect summer treat. I’m a sucker for frozen drinks, and this one is a delight. If you love rosé, you’ll enjoy its crisp and citrusy flavor. Plus, it’s just plain fun to drink.  

My companion got a Hotsy Tosty – another spicy drink, but more fruity and sweet than the Hot Lips. Like the first drink, it’s also made with jalapeño infused vodka, but the difference lies in the fresh strawberries, agave nectar, and fizzy ginger beer. I liked this one even more than the Hot Lips – but I’m partial to sweet and fruity drinks. You can’t go wrong with either choice. 

Before long our food arrived. The Bistro Burger was one of the best burgers I’ve had in a long time. The patty is ground in-house and crusted with pepper, topped with Boursin cheese and shoestring fries.

The burger was bursting with flavor – it had a hint of heat from the pepper tempered with creamy garlic from the cheese. It was as close to the feeling of having a fancy picnic with summer sausage and cheese as you could get in a burger. The shoe string fries were also perfectly crisp and the burger came with an additional side of them as well. I ate the whole thing, which is rare for me when it comes to burgers.

The Chicken Sandwich was equally amazing, but much heavier (as is to be expected with Southern-inspired cooking). The chicken was double-breaded with buttermilk and perfectly crusty on the outside and juicy-tender on the inside. The pimento cheese added a bit of heat, but the dill slaw provided a crunchy and satisfying cooldown.  

We were pretty stuffed, but we had to had to try the highly-recommended dessert: the Peanut Butter Pie. Trust me, you’ll want to order this one – it was so rich and delicious with its Oreo crust and creamy peanut butter filling. It even had a couple Reese’s cups as a topper along with crushed peanuts and a dollop of whipped cream. Peanut-butter lovers rejoice! 

I was honestly surprised by how good the food was for a place that offers sports and games. Oftentimes at bars like these, the food is an afterthought to the entertainment, but not so at the Thirsty Merchant. Come to watch your team on one of the many screens, or get a group together to share some apps and play a round of bocce ball (or three.) Or come with a date and snuggle into one of the cushy booths and enjoy a romantic cocktail. You can do it all at the Thirsty Merchant, and I for one will be making it one of my hangouts this summer. Connect-Four, anyone? 

Media Tasting: La Fête In West Hollywood

IB Hospitality Founder and Restaurateur Rohan Talwar, the team behind West Hollywood favorite Norah, introduced the neighborhood to an inventive extension, a cocktail bar called La Fête. This intimate addition to Norah is perfect for a French cocktail before or after your dinner.

La Fête
8277 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90046
https://www.lafetelosangeles.com/

The cocktail menu, by Bar Director Dave Kupchinsky, brings a beautiful blend of France and California to his beverages. Instagammers, make sure you have your cell phone handy for their flower wall. I predict it’ll be on everyone’s feed soon!

But first, let me take a selfie! The Floral Wall is too perfect.

The first drink I had was the La Julep, a more Parisian take on a classic Mint Julep. Instead of mint, this vibrant, crushed ice cocktail is mixed with dry vermouth, Cherry Eau de Vie, house made raspberry thyme cordial, Salers Aperitif, and verjus. It’s light, not overly sweet from the Cherry Eau de Vie. It’s so easy-to-drink that you’ll probably crave another right after one sip.

La Julep

The La Daiq cocktail is very tart, but this is the perfect cocktail for those of you who love sour cocktails (personally, I prefer the sweeter ones). It reminded me of a Lemon Drop in a coupe cocktail glass. It consists of Rhum JM, Plantation 3 Star Rum, Calvados, Kaffir Lime Cordial, and lime. Perfect for fans of the pucker!

The bar was lively, packed with LA’s most prominent influencers in the foodie/cocktail scene. It was so much fun to watching Kupchinsky shake up two libations; La Spritz and La Frappé.

These two drinks are gorgeous, but I preferred the La Spritz, with Litlet Rose, Rhubarb-Sage Gastrique, Tonic and Cava. The La Frappé, with absinthe, dry vermouth, homemade matcha coconut crème, pineapple, and fresh orange juice is sort of like a licoricey Daiquiri. Those of you with a taste for a French-Polynesian sip would love it. 

The show-stopper of the evening for me (see video above) was the La Side Piece, which includes Bache Gabrielsen Cognac, Cointreau and Lemon Verbena. The Cognac isn’t so strong when mixed with these ingredients, since the lemon defuses the flavor. It makes for a lovely slow-sipping drink.

La Tuxedo, which is a part of their Martini Service, is for those who love a more stiff drink. This powerful concoction has Sipsmith, VJOP Gin, La Quintinye Dry Vermouth, Maraschino, Absinthe, and Orange Bitters. It also comes with a side car for extra pours and a side of house marinated Kalamata, Picholine and Castelvetrano olives.

La Tuxedo

My final drink for the night with the Pastis Special #1, a mix of Pastis, Strawberry Cordial, and soda. I am usually not a big fan of licorice, but since that pungent flavor was toned down with Strawberry Cordial and soda.

Pastis Special #1

Check out La Fête bartender Taemur in the video below! There’s no shortage of entertainment here from the speed-shaking bartenders.

Thank you to Lawrence Moore and Associates for inviting us to this tasting!

Los Angeles Mom-To-Be: Julianne’s Top Pregnancy Picks

I’m officially 39 weeks down and I’m ready to pop!

Prepping for the birth of my first baby (it’s a girl!) was already pretty stressful but I wanted to share some of my discoveries that made my LA pregnancy relatively smooth.

BEST BABY PREP AND EDUCATION

Even after I read What to Expect While You’re Expecting, I still felt so overwhelmed about my upcoming birthing process. Like many others, I tend to learn better by having a teacher go through everything with me. I won’t mention the name of my health insurance provider, but after taking one of their complimentary workshops, which consisted of watching a dated promotional video with a nurse who just seemed “over it,” I decided I needed to find something more welcoming.

Photo by Morgan Pansing

I heard about Loom, a childbirth education center, from a friend of mine, who even after her childbirth still takes development classes there. After touring the minimalist (but still warm and welcoming) center in the Mid-Wilshire part of LA, I instantly felt so much more comfortable here.

I have taken both the Prepped and Accelerated classes and the Infant Feeding Basics class. What I like about these classes is that the instructors teach in a way that’s approachable, there’s no such thing as a “stupid question” and you’re encouraged to share what you’re going through. The sharing is is building the growing parent community there.

From taking these classes I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders, and I’m so much more prepped for the big push!

Use promo code GOFXLOOM10 to deduct 10% from the cost of any class or service, valid until 5/16/18

BEST ONLINE MATERNITY SAVE AND SPLURGE 

Ingrid & Isabel, my favorite maternity clothing, has 2 different lines available. The line that I would consider a “splurge” is available at select boutiques (like Mom’s The Word, in the Beverly Grove area) and the “less expensive” but still super stylish line is available at Target. I stocked up on items from both and had plenty of chic but comfortable options.

My favorite items are in the image above
Cozy Wrap
Active Legging with Crossover Panel

BEST BABY SHOWER LOCATION

So here’s the thing—I did not plan my baby shower—it was a total surprise! I don’t have much to compare baby shower locations to, but I can note that this beats any baby shower at a house. This surprise party planned was by my mom, my best friend Marcie and #plusonebae and they nailed it with the location at The Culver Hotel. I’m a regular here, so I was stunned that they were able to keep it so secretive!

The party was held in The Studio, a part of the Parisian Room, which is elegant and perfect for a smaller gathering. The food and beverages were served buffet style with bottomless mimosas for everyone (except me!). The brunch service was prompt and attentive, and our server was kind enough to take many pictures of the whole gang together without

BEST FOOD DELIVERY SERVICE 

I decided to test out a couple of delivery box services and my favorite so far has been one of the leading services, Blue Apron. Meal prep boxes are great for busy weeknight meals, especially when it’s just me at home cooking for one. It’s also a great way to shake up your cooking routine, cause as much as I love being in the kitchen, I suffered from “pregnancy brain” during all of this! I just wanted to pick something up and eat it rather have to come up with a menu—but with Blue Apron, that’s taken care of for you!

Whole Grain Pasta & Beef Bolognese with Romaine Salad (relax, that’s just juice to the left)

My favorite meal that I cooked from this box was the Whole Grain Pasta and Beef Bolognese. The serving size says 2, but it was much more ample than that.

I realized from testing Blue Apron during pregnancy that my husband and I will be using this delivery system when I’m nursing, cause I’m positive I will need a break from coming up with my own recipes!

 Blue Apron- Get $40 Off Your First 2 Boxes!

BEST SWEET TOOTH CURBER

I picked up my first batch of Bare Snacks at my local Target and fell in love with all the different flavors! These treats are oven-baked when the fruits are at their ripest, bringing out the best flavors. They’re also non-gmo and B-corp certified. My favorite fruit chips were the Chocolate Coconut Chips, made with unsweetened coco powder and sweetened with coconut nectar. The Granny Smith Apple Chips were also tart perfection.

BEST ITEM I HAD NO CLUE I NEEDED

I learned (from my Prepped and Accelerated class at Loom) that it helps during labor to utilize a balance ball. Upon a run to T.J. Maxx, I got lucky and found a Gaiam Balance Ball Chair and I’ve been straightening my core and pelvic floor while running Girls on Food during the day.

Image via Amazon

It’s very easy to start slouching during pregnancy, since you’re carrying so much more weight than usual and I would say that this helped prevent my posture from getting too slouchy. I also didn’t struggle with my back as much as other moms have complained to me about.

BEST FACE OIL

I wish I could give my baby girl the credit for my glow, but I should actually credit Josie Maran’s Argan Moonstone Drops Makeup Priming and Highlighting Oil. I started using face oils when I noticed my usually dewy skin was getting a bit dry (common in pregnancy).

Image via Sephora

Not only is the lemongrass fragrance lightweight and doesn’t clash with my other perfumes, the holographic glow didn’t break me out at all! My skin texture has improved a lot since I started using this oil, and I plan to continue use after pregnancy.

BEST “SOFT COCKTAILS”

Peter Piper

First off, major props to Nomad Hotel for not calling them “mocktails”! LA’s latest renovated historical landmark (love the art deco) has a fantastic array of soft cocktails in addition to their fantastic bites. There are 6 different soft cocktail options and my favorite was the Peter Piper, with pineapple, lime, black pepper, passionfruit and white balsamic vinegar. It was everything I’d imagine a pregnancy craving cocktail would be, due to the tartness of it. So if you have a mom-to-be in your life, you must take her here!

 Be sure to follow Girls on Food on Instagram @girlsonfoodblog

A Preview of the New Menu at Crossings In South Pasadena

When I think of Pasadena and what it is known for, I immediately picture the Rose Bowl, Huntington Library, Norton Simon Museum and JPL. Pasadena has a lot of history, and that’s what makes the city so great. I used to live in South Pasadena and have long admired the architect and design. Crossings, located in the Edwards and Faw building on Missions Street, has been around since 1908. That’s 110 years that it has withstood the test of time, very impressive. At a private dinner to preview the menu this week, I was told that this two-story restaurant (with a split level wine cellar!) was once a bottling company. It’s no wonder the restaurant boasts a classic chic and elegant 1940’s style!

Crossings
1010 Missions Street, South Pasadena, CA 91030
http://crossings-restaurant.com/ 

 

Several other food bloggers and I were initially brought to the first-floor bar to try a few of their cocktails. I decided on the Paradise Lost—a concoction of Tito’s Vodka, fresh pear puree, Giffard’s Elderflower, and lime—as I tend to gravitate more toward the sweet and fruity drinks. This definitely made me feel like I was somewhere tropical. I also tried Ichabod’s Muse, which consists of BuffaloTrade Bourbon, pumpkin puree, lemon, honey, and cinnamon and the sweet, bold flavor tasted quite pleasant. Jessie, our mixologist, certainly knows how to craft the perfect cocktail!

Paradise Lost
Ichabod’s Muse

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kumamoto Oysters

After we drank our cocktails, we headed to the second floor where we sat at a table of 9 food bloggers including myself. I already had a notion of what dishes to expect, but Chef Malone Jr. surprised us with an amuse bouche which just so happened to be my favorite type of oysters. These Kumamoto oysters were served with finger lime, mignonette foam, and mint—an excellent start to dinner. Paired with Henri Maire Cremant from Jura. 🇫🇷

Hamachi Verde

Next up was the Hamachi Verde. It was so soft and tender and as one slice laid upon my palate, my mouth became filled with a heavenly sensation. Chef Malone used snap agua chile, kaffir lime, cucumber, and serrano and that gave it a lovely flavor as can be verified with all those who feasted upon it. Paired with 2015 Keunts Bas Pino Blanc from Alsace 🇩🇪

Roasted Sunchokes

Then we had the Roasted Sunchokes. If you’re not familiar with sunchokes, they are the root of a sunflower, native to Eastern North America. Apparently, if you eat too many it will help cleanse your system very thoroughly. The chef roasted the sunchokes and used an orange glaze and habanero sauce to caramelize these roots. This gave it an amazing texture and is very addicting after every bite. I grew even more excited, because I knew the next two dishes were going to be the best! Paired with 2015 Armand Kabinett Riesling from Pfalz 🇩🇪

Hamachi Collar

Bright with sunflower petals and cured blood orange skins, paired with a side of pibil, creme fraiche and a plate of Fresno chili and tortillas was the most colorful Hamachi Collar I have ever seen. The well-prepared meat easily came off the collarbone and paired perfectly with the tortillas and Fresno chili for a pretty fancy taco. Paired with 2015 Stolpman La Cuadrilla Grenache/Syrah/Sangiovese from Santa Ynez-Ballard Canyon AVA, CA 🇺🇸

Wagyu Navel

Now for my favorite dish of the night, Wagyu Navel. I was so curious about the ash, charcoal potatoes, soubise, and burnt leek in this dish. It was phenomenal! I savored every bite and took my time enjoying the flavors resonating in my mouth. I mentioned to Chef Malone that I hope it stays on the menu. Paired with 2013 Ramírez de la Piscina Crianza Tempranillo from Rioja 🇪🇸

Pot de Creme

We were nearing the end and our last and final tasting came before us as Pot de Creme. It was well done with the puffed rice and saltiness mixed in the horchata foam over the ancho chili and espresso. Some were ready to steal the plates of those who were taking their time eating their dessert.

Over the course of the evening, I learned that Chef Malone moved from Boston to California to ski when he was just 18 years old. Though he learned about cooking from his father, he was a pro skier for a bit before he found his passion for cooking—which he now shares with us! I loved this updated take on classic American steakhouse cuisine and I know the Crossings regulars will welcome it too!

Ginger Peach White Sangria Mocktail For Moms To Be

The night before I found out I was pregnant, I was out at happy hour enjoying a nice glass (or two) of sangria. That was about 5 months ago, and I now find myself sometimes missing the good ol’ days when I could indulge in a nice glass of that beautiful red or white fruity-with-a-kick glass of goodness! Can any of you mom-to-be’s relate?

Now at restaurants, instead of ordering wine, I’m asking the waiter if the bartender can whip up a mocktail. It’s actually fun seeing what fun drink they can come up with. Recently, I decided to try out my own mocktails and I’ve been experimenting with different flavors to find fun “fancy” juices that I can drink out of classy glasses. I’m telling you, even drinking water out of a champagne or wine glass really helps you not care that you have to give up the good stuff for the next nine (cough **ten** cough) months.

This past weekend I tried my hand at a white sangria and was pleasantly surprised with the results. I combined a non-alcoholic Moscato, peach juice and ginger beer for a sweet but spicy concoction. The non-alcoholic Moscato can be found in the grocery store in the section where they sell cocktail mixers and it’s called FRE. If your local store doesn’t sell it, white grape juice would be a good substitute.

Ginger Peach White Sangria Mocktail

The recipe as is will provide a sangria on the sweeter side. If you like a really strong ginger taste, just add a bit more ginger beer.

Ingredients

750ml bottle of FRE non-alcoholic Moscato (or about 3 cups of white grape juice)
2 cups peach juice
1 cup ginger beer
1 cup frozen peaches
1 cup frozen mangos
1 cup frozen strawberries
Seltzer water

Directions

Step 1: Add frozen fruit to a pitcher.

Step 2: Add the non-alcoholic Moscato or grape juice, peach juice and ginger beer to the pitcher and mix well.

Step 3: Refrigerate for about 2 hours.

Step 4: Pour sangria into a fancy glass and top with a splash of seltzer water and more frozen fruit.

Step 5: Put your feet up and enjoy!

This recipe is so easy and really really good! Enjoy 🙂